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Vietnamese folk music: The sounds of culture with a harmony of traditions

31/08/2023 6.439

Enjoying Vietnamese folk music is an ideal way to discover a treasure trove of musical traditions that have been passed down through generations, reflecting the country's history, values, and way of life.

Vietnamese folk music

During your Vietnam travel journey, besides enjoying delectable Vietnamese dishes and visiting well-known tourist attractions, enjoying Vietnamese folk music performances should also be on the top of your bucket list. This fascinating kind of Vietnam music allows tourists to gain greater insight into Vietnamese culture through its melodies.

1. A glance at Vietnamese folk music and its values

Vietnamese folk music is like a colorful quilt woven from traditions. It is a collection of Vietnamese folk songs, idioms, and proverbs that hold the secrets of Vietnamese culture. Vietnamese folk songs (ca dao) are short, catchy songs that people have loved for ages. They do not have many fancy verses; instead, they are like musical snapshots of history and life. These songs have simple tunes that make them easy to remember and pass down to the young generations.

Within the realm of Vietnam folk songs, there are four prominent themes: history, daily life, traditions, and moral lessons. These songs teach virtues and insights that have been cherished across generations. So, Vietnamese folk music is not just about the tunes. Listeners will get to dive into the stories about the past, feel the emotions of life, and learn the wisdom of the old.

Vietnamese folk music

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2. Common Vietnamese folk music instruments

2.1. Vietnamese string instruments

  • Dan bau: This is a simple instrument that can touch your heart deeply. Dan bau has just one string, but that string can convey all kinds of emotions. The sound is authentically rustic, like a secret language that speaks straight to your soul.
  • Dan nguyet: This musical instrument is like a mood changer. It can sound happy at one part then melancholic at another, adapting to different tunes. You might hear dan nguyet at traditional ceremonies, performances, or even funerals.
  • Dan nhi: Dan nhi has two metal strings and a wooden or bamboo bow with horsehair. The body is made of strong wood covered with snake skin. With no frets on its neck and two pegs to tune, it has a unique sound that adds magic to the music.
Vietnamese folk music

2.2. Vietnamese wind instruments

  • Ken bau: You will often hear the sound of ken bau in weddings, funerals, and big celebrations. There are different versions of this trumpet - some make deep sound, some are kind of neutral, and others go high. The special thing about ken bau is the bell at the end, which is made from a dried gourd. Because of its strong sound, usually only men play it.
  • Sao truc: This instrument looks like a bamboo stick turned into a flute. To play it, you need to blow air into one end and make sounds by covering the holes along its body. You can make all kinds of tones by blowing hard or soft. This flute can be played solo or in a group. The music it makes is gentle, as if it is talking to your heart.
Vietnamese folk music

2.3. Vietnamese percussion instruments

  • Dan da: Dan da is a unique instrument from the Central Highlands. It is a set of different-sized stone slabs coming together to make music. People use special tools made of green stones to tap on the slabs and make sounds. It is like turning nature into melodies. Shaping these stones just right takes some skills, but when you hear it played, you will see that it is worth the effort. 
  • T'rung: This special instrument consists of bamboo pipes lined up like a mini forest. Some pipes are open at the top and some are closed. To play it, you need to tap on the pipes with bamboo sticks. People in the Central Highlands used to play the T’rung after a day's hard work. Nowadays, its nature-inspired tunes have become a hit, making people feel the vibes of the outdoors.
Vietnamese folk music

2.4. Other Vietnamese traditional music instruments

  • Dan tranh: This is a zither that makes melodies with strings. A standard dan tranh has 16 or 17 strings, but there are also bigger ones with even more strings. Dan tranh has a beautiful shape, like a piece of art. The sound comes from its curved top, flat bottom, and six side pieces. To play dan tranh, Vietnam folk music artists use metal, plastic, or even tortoise-shell picks. 
  • Trong Com: Literally translated as the rice drum, the impressive name of this instrument comes from the fact that folk musicians used to put hot rice mash on it to make it sound just right before they performed. It is made from a piece of wood that is hollowed out, both ends covered with buffalo skin. You will see a crisscross of leather or rattan strings on it, which are used to tune the sound. 
  • Cong chieng: This stunning musical instrument is made from copper alloy, sometimes with gold or silver on it. It comes in various sizes, typically from 20 to 60 cm in diameter, with large ones potentially reaching 120 cm. People from the Muong people and other ethnic groups in the Central Highlights often play cong chieng in for ceremonies, weddings, and funerals.
Vietnamese folk music

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3. The most typical Vietnamese folk music genres

3.1. Xam folk music of Vietnam

Originated in the northern region of Vietnam, xam folk music can be considered as a time machine that will take you back to the old days. Xam songs come in all flavors, but they all share a common theme - love and kindness. Their human values are what makes them so beloved. The singers of xam need to have strong voices, as they often need to sing for hours without any fancy tricks. 

3.2. Tuong Vietnamese folk music

Tuong is a classic performing art that has been in Vietnam for ages. It is a mix of singing, dancing, and acting, all coming together to tell stories of history and legend. The actors have to be good at showing characters in a way that makes sense to everyone. Every move matters, like putting together a puzzle. Music is an important part of tuong, with traditional instruments like the zither, moon lute, and different drums.

Vietnamese folk music

3.3. Cai luong folk music of Vietnam

Originating from South Vietnam, cai luong is a special music genre that is all about stories. It is a mix of old folk tunes, classical melodies, and a touch of modern flair. The stories are often about love, family, and things that matter to people. When it is showtime, the audience can see traditional instruments like dan nguyet and dan tranh. These instruments have a way of making the music sound even more special.

3.4. Don ca tai tu folk music in Vietnam

Don ca tai tu is a music genre that comes from the Mekong Delta region. The special thing about it is the mix of singing and traditional instruments like dan nhi and dan bau. When you listen to don ca tai uu, it seems like the music is telling stories of the region. It is a musical journey that will take you to the heart of the Vietnamese countryside and let you experience its soulful essence.

Vietnamese folk music

3.5. Ca tru Vietnamese folk music

Coming from Northern Vietnam, ca tru is a treasure of chamber music, like a whisper from the past. This genre is special because of its graceful singing style that feels like poetry in motion. When the singers perform, they often use three traditional musical instruments, including dan day, phach, and trong chau. Ca tru is more than just music; it is like a blend of art forms. It takes folk music, poetry, and even a bit of dance to create a truly unique performance.

3.6. Chau van Vietnamese folk music

Chau van is a remarkable genre of ritual music deeply entwined with Vietnamese spirituality, especially in the northern region of the country. It is like a bridge between the earthly and the divine, fusing singing, chanting, and instruments into a harmonious performance. The star of the show is the moon lute, an instrument that guides the journey of these mystical melodies. Through its sounds, you will not only hear the beauty of Vietnamese folk music; you will also catch a glimpse of the spiritual customs that define the culture.

Vietnamese folk music

3.7. Hue Royal Court Music

Hue, once the heart of Vietnam's feudal era, holds a unique treasure known as Hue Royal Court Music. With meticulous attention to detail, every note and sound of this genre are carefully crafted. Performers often use traditional instruments like zither, monochord, moon lute, and even drums and gongs when performing Hue Royal Court Music. Listening to it is like time traveling to a time when emperors ruled in Vietnam. 

3.8. Quan ho Vietnamese folk music

In the heart of Bac Ninh Province in Northern Vietnam, quan ho takes center stage. It is like a musical dialogue that dances between male and female singers. You can think of it as a friendly competition, with the vocals playfully matching lyrics and melodies. The melodies and lyrics of quan ho Vietnamese folk music are like jewels of art, which turn each performance into a dazzling piece. The moon lute and dan tam (three-stringed lute) are the highlight, which makes the performance even more charming.

Vietnamese folk music

3.9. Cheo folk music of Vietnam

Cheo is like a magical doorway to Vietnamese opera music, but with the use of traditional folk tunes. This type of Vietnamese folk music features a mix of singing, dancing, and storytelling. Cheo stories can either be romantic or tragic. There is always a funny character on stage who adds a playful touch to the performance. Performers also adopt some traditional instruments such as moon lute or zither to set the rhythm for the show.

3.10. Ho and ly folk music in Vietnam

Ho and ly folk music comes from the Red River Delta in Northern Vietnam. In these genres, you will find poetry that is sung, accompanied by instruments like the moon lute and zither. Ho and ly folk music is special because it is all about the everyday life of regular people. These two genres are closely connected, with ho being about work and ly focusing more on other aspects of life. Together, they make a sound that will take us back to a modest world full of stories.

Vietnamese folk music

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Vietnamese folk music


Vietnamese folk music

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Vietnamese folk music is a distinctive type of Vietnamese traditional art that tourists should not miss out on enjoying in the splendid nation of Vietnam. Through a variety of meaningful stories and special instruments, Vietnamese folk music performances will bring you a deeper understanding of the local culture.

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